This week, the New York Post dedicated not one, but two, covers to nude photos of Melania Trump. On Sunday, the Post printed an issue with the front page headline “The Ogle Office” and an image of a nude Melania from a 1995 photo shoot for a French men’s magazine. The sub-headline read, “You’ve never seen a potential first lady like this!” On Monday, the Post continued its exploitative coverage by putting another 1995 photo of Melania nude with another woman on its cover, accompanied by the headline, “Menage a Trump.”
Category: On the Bias
On CNN’s New Day this week, Donald Trump told Chris Cuomo, “Look, women want strength. They want security. They want to have strong military. They want to know that our country is being protected.” In making the case that Hillary Clinton could not provide that protection, Trump played into the masculine protectionism ubiquitous in the Republican campaign to date. In essence, he positioned himself as the protector that women want, despite evidence to the contrary.
In his book, Jackson Katz writes, “Presidential politics are the site of an ongoing cultural struggle over the meaning of American manhood.” For over two centuries, presidential candidates have worked to meet masculine credentials of the job, proving they are tough, strong, and “manly men.” More importantly, they have worked to emasculate their opponents, characterizing them as too weak, infantile, or feminine to be Commander-in-Chief. This politics of emasculation is on full display in the current GOP primary, where the top contenders are engaged in fights over who is man enough to be president.
When Mark Penn wrote in 2006 campaign memo that the nation was not ready for a “first mama” president, his concerns seemed to be rooted in Hillary Clinton’s ability to be the “tough single parent” of the nation instead of appearing too feminine or – by proxy – weak. Penn’s outlook was ultimately flawed, as Clinton’s defeat signaled, but his concern about being the “first mama” candidate may be relevant for other reasons. Writing for the Huffington Post, Dr. Prudence Gourguechon explains the concept of “mother transference” and outlines how it affects women in public leadership.
Donald Trump argues that his decision to sit out of Fox’s Republican debate is based on his perception that moderator Megyn Kelly is biased against him. In an Instagram video posted yesterday, he asked, “Do you really think she can be fair at a debate?” His skepticism is rooted in frustration over a question Kelly posed in an August GOP debate:
In the 2008 presidential election, Hillary Clinton pollster and strategist Mark Penn argued that the country was not ready for a first mama president, but might be “open to the first father being a woman.” Penn’s perception, and the strategy resulting from it, is rooted in expectations that the president is not simply the head of the country’s household, so to speak, but is the paternal protector of the nation. More than that, he is the model of ideal masculinity: tough, strong, and – according to Kathleen Parker’s latest column – authoritarian.
In previous posts, we have elaborated on the research that shows persistent gender disparities in coverage of candidate appearance. Women candidates frequently face greater attention to their hair and hemlines than do their male opponents, and the negative implications of that coverage on voter perceptions of candidate qualifications for office are real. That coverage is – most often implicitly – tied to stereotypical expectations of sexuality; do women candidates meet traditional standards of feminine beauty and do male candidates display traditional indicators of masculinity in physical strength or stature?
The Republican candidates in Thursday’s debate sought to establish their strength credentials by contrasting them with the weakness of the current Commander-in-Chief, Barack Obama. Ahead of the debate, Marco Rubio accused Obama of “coddling” Iran “in a away that makes us weaker.” During the debate, Jeb Bush claimed, “I can see why people are angry and scared, because this president has created a condition where our national security has weakened dramatically.” Ted Cruz and others repeated their promise to restore American strength by “utterly destroying ISIS.”
In adhering to traditional expectations of gender and the presidency, we still often characterize America’s chief executive as head of the nation’s household and protector-in-chief. In Thursday’s GOP debate, the candidates repeatedly vowed to protect the American people, considered to be among the most important responsibilities of a president. Included in those discussions were multiple references to the debate over admitting Syrian refugees into the United States.
On last week’s episode of The Good Wife (CBS), Alicia Florrick – the show’s main character and wife of now-presidential candidate Peter Florrick – was confronted with the traditional gender role expectations that continue to shape presidential politics; despite her own exceptional credentials and accomplishments, her primary role on the campaign trail was to present herself as the supportive spouse and stereotypical wife and mother. Being “the good wife” in presidential campaigns has long been expected of male candidates’ spouses; whether “softening” their husbands’ personas, standing alongside them, and/or reflecting their masculinity, candidates’ wives are often expected to demonstrate their capacity to fit the idealized role of first lady. A recent post on a conservative news site added another credential necessary of candidate’s wives: “unapologetically pro-life views” that, they argue, will inevitably influence the policies of their presidential candidate husbands.